Illness Behaviour: An Overview

  • David Mechanic


The concept of illness or disease refers to limited scientific models for characterizing constellations of symptoms and the conditions underlying them. The concept of illness behaviour, in contrast, describes the ways persons respond to bodily indications and the conditions under which they come to view them as abnormal. Illness behaviour thus involves the manner in which persons monitor their bodies, define and interpret their symptoms, take remedial action, and utilize various sources of help as well as the more formal health-care system. It also is concerned with how people monitor and respond to symptoms and symptom change over the course of an illness and how this affects behaviour, remedial actions taken, and response to treatment. The different perceptions, evaluations and responses to illness have, at times, dramatic impact on the extent to which symptoms interfere with usual life routines, chronicity, attainment of appropriate care and co-operation of the patient in treatment. Variables affecting illness behaviour usually come into play well before any medical scrutiny and treatment (Mechanic, 1978a).


Psychological Distress Stressful Life Event Remedial Action Illness Experience Illness Behaviour 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Mechanic
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging ResearchRutgers UniversityUSA

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